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Big Ten Preview: Minnesota

Minnesota men’s basketball players huddle on their home court. The Gophers have won nine total Big Ten championship titles for football and men’s basketball. (Photo courtesy of University of Minnesota. Design by Lindsey Murto/Design director)

By Aaron Doyle

July 6, 2024 10:50 p.m.

UCLA is just weeks away from joining the Big Ten. After 96 years and 123 national championships in the Pac-12, the Bruins are at the forefront of the Big Ten’s West Coast expansion. Prior to UCLA’s official move, Daily Bruin Sports will preview the football, men’s basketball and other top programs of each school.

Football
2023 record: 6-7, 3-6 Big Ten
Coach: P.J. Fleck

Fifty-seven years ago, Minnesota football was a powerhouse.

The Gophers racked up six national championships and 18 conference titles in the early 20th century – becoming one of the most decorated Big Ten programs.

Success has proven elusive since – but coach P.J. Fleck demonstrated his knack for rejuvenation in 2021 and 2022.

In both years, Fleck became the second coach in program history to lead the Gophers to nine or more wins a season. But in 2023, the squad took a step – or three – back, notching just six wins through the season.

Fleck is entering his eighth year at the team’s helm, after his appointment in January 2017 following four seasons at Western Michigan.

The 2023 season left the Gophers weakened by injury, relegating running back Darius Taylor to the sidelines for a majority of games.

The Detroit local led the team in rushing yards in 2023, despite playing seven fewer games than the runner-up in the category. Notching a total of 799 rushing yards last season, Taylor ranked eighth in the Big Ten.

Taylor is said to be in full recovery, and his return could be pivotal to Minnesota’s offense next season.

Quarterback Athan Kaliakmanis’ transfer to Rutgers left a wide-open spot for a new signal-caller.

Fleck picked up quarterback Max Brosmer from the transfer portal during the offseason. Brosmer spent five years at New Hampshire prior to his commitment to Minnesota. He was the team captain in 2023 and was ranked second in the nation in passing yards and touchdowns.

Brosmer’s addition to the Gophers’ roster could put Minnesota with one of the strongest offensive lines in the conference.

New faces in the Minnesota lineup could build depth to its roster – something that was lacking after injuries swarmed the team last season.

Linebacker Cody Lindenberg should return to full strength for the 2024 season after suffering an injury last season that allowed him to appear in just four games.

Despite making his debut two months into the thick of the 2023 season, Lindenberg quickly found his footing. He led the team in tackles against both Illinois and Wisconsin with 11 each time.

Lindenberg showed glimpses of potential since joining Minnesota in 2020. In his sophomore campaign, he played in all 13 games and held a starting position in the final six.

If he’s healthy, the Minnesota local has the potential to get back onto his pre-injury trajectory.

The talent is there for the Gophers in 2024. Many of Minnesota’s key players will make a full return next season, paving the way for a big jump from its 2023 record.

Men’s basketball
2023-2024 record: 19-15, 9-11 Big Ten
Coach: Ben Johnson

Minnesota men’s basketball trended upward since Ben Johnson was named head coach in March 2021.

The Gophers went from a 9-22 record in 2022-2023 to a 19-15 record in 2023-2024. Minnesota showed the most improved record in the Big Ten – going from being the worst-ranked team in the Big Ten to a No. 10 ranking in 2023-2024.

Minnesota also managed its highest scoring production since 2017 last season, averaging 75 points per game.

Forward Dawson Garcia led the Gophers last season in points and rebounds per game, with 17.6 and 6.7, respectively. Garcia started in all 31 games he played last season, despite missing three in December because of an injury.

The injury seemed to have no lingering effects on the Minnesota local, as he proceeded to accumulate 30 points on two occasions following his short absence from the court. Garcia’s return for his senior campaign could be pivotal to the team’s success next season.

Johnson’s incoming class features two true freshmen and seven transfers. Among the latter pack is guard Tyler Cochran, who was named the MAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year following his performance during the 2023-2024 season at Toledo.

Cochran’s defensive skills will likely be put to use at Minnesota – last season, the Bolingbrook, Illinois, local led the MAC in steals per game and recorded a steal in 16 straight games.

Cochran showed versatility on the court during the 2023 season. On top of being one of the top defensive players in the conference, he also averaged 14.4 points per game and recorded a career-high 33 points against Marshall in December.

(Courtesy of University of Minnesota)
Former Minnesota guard Cam Christie shoots the ball during a game. Christie was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week twice in 2024. (Courtesy of University of Minnesota)

Young talent contributed to Minnesota’s 2023 season. Guard Cam Christie started his freshman year strong, earning Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors twice. Christie led all Gopher underclassmen in points per game and total points scored.

Christie is now off to the NBA, and newcomers such as Oregon transfer guard Brennan Rigsby are available replacements.

With a different look on the hardwood next year, Johnson can build on the team’s established talent in his fourth year in charge.

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